We’ve Got a Winner: Adweek’s Ava DuVernay Cover Portrait Honored by Communication Arts

Photographer Scott Witter on getting the shot in less than an hour and the playlist that made the filmmaker smile

Scott Witter's portrait of Ava DuVernay is a winner in Communication Arts' 2019 photo competition.
Headshot of Kacy Burdette

Last year, we were thrilled to feature director Ava DuVernay on the cover of Adweek’s 2018 Creative 100 issue, and now we’re just as excited to announce that the portrait, shot for Adweek at the Los Angeles headquarters of Array Now, DuVernay’s production company, by photographer Scott Witter, was named a winner in the editorial/entertainment category of Communication Arts magazine’s 60th annual photography competition. It’s quite an honor—out of over 3,000 entries, only 134 were chosen by a five-person jury of creative professionals. The winners, explains CA, were chosen based on “creative excellence and quality of execution.”

Below, Witter talks about why photographing the award-winning filmmaker felt like if “if Prince’s song ‘Raspberry Beret’ were a mood.'”

Adweek: What kind of research did you do?
Scott Witter: I researched Ava’s early life specifically (via internet articles): growing up in [the L.A. neighborhood of] Compton, what inspired her to be a filmmaker, personal interests, etc. I typically stay away from talking about the subject’s current projects unless it’s part of the story.

Scott Witter for Adweek.

AW: How much time did you have with her?
We had an hour carved out, but due to her busy schedule it was more like 30 to 45 minutes.

AW: How did you collaborate with Ava?
The day of the shoot was the two-year anniversary of Prince’s deathm so I made a playlist revolved around his music and similar artists. I like to find personal ways to connect with a subject, and music is always a good jumping-off point. Ava and I are the same age, so I thought that’d help us connect quickly.

AW: What made her smile?
Everything! Ava had a lot of positive energy…. The music definitely enhanced the vibe of the shoot. A Tribe Called Quest tends to do that.

AW: What did you and she talk about during the shoot?
Music for sure. We kept the vibe super upbeat and fun. As we parted, I shared a touching story from a shoot I had done with Maya Angelou. That was a nice moment.

AW: What was the mood like?
If Prince’s song “Raspberry Beret” were a mood.

AW: What did this shoot mean to you personally?
The experience underscored the importance of how diversity and representation of different cultures can enhance creativity and imagination.

DuVernay on the cover of our Creative 100 issue last year.
Photo by Scott Witter for Adweek.

@kacyburdette kacy.burdette@adweek.com Kacy Burdette is a photo editor at Adweek.